Dean sat at the library table, slowly working his way through a bottle of whiskey. He didn’t feel the need to rush anymore, and it felt nice. Different, definitely different, but in a welcomed way. He felt like he could finally exhale a breath he’s held his entire life. He and Sam were safe, everyone was un-Thanos snapped, Sam had Eileen, and he had Cas.
He had Cas.
That’s a new concept. It was still so much to process. That day, the day Cas- Cas died, still hurt to think about. Cas finally being open about this thing between them was something Dean did not see coming. Honestly, he had resigned himself to a lifelong acceptance that Cas was unable to feel anything for Dean that resembled what Dean felt for Cas. Oh, how wrong he was. That angel could make Dean see himself in a light he didn’t believe was possible. He still struggles with it, often, but it’s a start. At least he had gotten over most of the internalized homophobia his dad had ingrained in him—and learnt what ‘internalized homophobia’ even was. (Charlie had been a big help in that department.) And he managed it without a therapist. Well, there were some long, long talks with not only Charlie, but Jody, and Donna, and Garth, and… well let’s just say Dean definitely had help along the way.
Even with all that, he and Cas still hadn’t really talked about what all that meant now. It’s only been about a week since they got Cas back and there hasn’t really been a quiet time to sit down—and Dean may or may not have been avoiding such a talk.
After him, Sam, and Jack took out Chuck, Cas was Dean’s number one priority. Jack was just as adamant as the brothers to save Cas. And since everyone was back, they had all hands on deck trying to find a way to save Cas. Jody, Donna, and the girls; Charlie; Bobby; and any other hunter they could reach all searched for a solution. Soon enough, they found a way. Dean had been firm on the fact that it would be he who ventured into the Empty. No one fought him on this.
Essentially, after finding a spell that could tear a small hole between Earth and the Empty, they tied what was basically a magical rope to Dean—that’s how Sam had explained it to him—so he could find his way back, and so they could pull him out if things got hairy (which they often do, seeing as they’re the Winchesters).
Dean knew he’d never forget the sensation of being in the Empty.
Or rather, the lack of sensation. It was like every sense possible was taken away. Everything felt muffled and distant. Ever persistent, Dean had ignored the unsettling atmosphere and began praying to Cas in his mind, hoping that he could still get prayers in the Empty. God, the relief that had washed over Dean when he heard those two simple words:
“Cas! Fuck, am I glad to see you. Look-” Dean stumbled, interrupted by a violent tremor in the ground. The Empty must’ve noticed something was wrong.
“Look,” Dean continued, “we don’t have a lot of time. Or any time, really. We have a plan. The Empty has claim over angels that die, right? Gotta make you human then. You with me?”
Cas nodded quickly, stepping closer to Dean. “I trust you. Do whatever you can to get us out.”
Dean’s throat clenched, but he swallowed past it. There would be time for feelings later. Now he had to act.
Dean pulled an angel blade out of the holster on his hip. He placed it against Cas’ throat. Another tremor shook the ground. Fuck, he was so terrified of cutting too deep. He placed his other hand on the back of Cas’ head to steady them both.
“There’s a vial on a necklace ‘round my neck. Get it open ‘n ready, would you?”
Cas complied, just as Dean slowly dragged the blade across Cas’ throat. It felt so wrong. Cas was the last person Dean would want to put a blade to. Soon enough, yet somehow still far too long, glowing blue smoke seeped from the shallow incision into the vial. Dean grabbed Cas’ hand, ready to sprint back to the portal, when a barely-human face emerged from the pitch black surrounding them.
“Now,” the Empty rumbled, “where do you think you are going?”
“He ain’t your property no more,” Dean said. He gripped onto the necklace. “No grace, no angel. But thanks for playing, try again next time.” Dean yanked on the magical bungee cord, wrapped his arm around Cas’ waist, and before he knew it, he and Cas were swept away, hearing the angry roars from behind them.
Dean sat back in his chair, half empty glass dangling from his fingers. His family was safe. There was no power-hungry entity pulling their strings like puppets anymore. Is this what peace feels like?
He sighed, shifting up in his chair. Claire barged into the library, quickly followed by Sam and Cas.
“Dean, please tell Sam and Cas that burgers are a perfectly healthy dinner option!”
“Claire-” Cas started, but she shushed him.
“I want Dean’s input.”
“We all know what he’s gonna say.” Sam rolled his eyes.
“Hey, I take offense to that.” Dean finally sat up all the way in his chair. “Now, look, while burgers may not be the best food choice out there” —Claire glared at him— “we’re here for a good time, not a long time. Let them eat burgers!”
Cas tilted his head in confusion. “We are here for a good time and a long time, no?”
“No, Cas- never mind. It’s a saying.” Fondness flooded through Dean. He hoped it didn’t show on his face. From Sam’s expression, he didn’t feel too confident about the answer.
“It’s settled, then! Burgers for dinner.” Claire clapped her hands and turned back towards the hallway.
“Fine, but I’m getting a veggie burger.” Sam followed her out the room.
Cas stayed behind.
“How are you?”
Dean gave a half smile. “Bit past small talk by now, aren’t we?”
“It’s not small talk; I truly want to know how you feel.”
Shit, Dean’s still not used to hearing things like that. Doesn’t know if he’ll ever get used to it.
“Well then, not too bad, I’d say. Chuck’s a goner, everyone’s alive and safe, and- and, y’know, you’re here,” Dean finished lamely. He flushed and looked down at the glass still in his hand. He stared at it until another hand covered his. Dean looked up to see clear blue eyes watching him, a look on his face that made Dean’s heart twist.
“But there’s still something, isn’t there?”
When did Cas become a walking, talking encyclopedia on Dean? No matter what, Cas always saw through whatever front Dean tried to put up, even ones he didn’t even realize he had.
Cas pulled out the chair next to Dean and sat down, his hand still warm on Dean’s own. He didn’t try to push conversation, though, just sat there with Dean until he wanted to speak.
A minute passed before Dean worked up the guts to say what he’d been stirring over.
“I- I’m worried I took your choice from you.” Dean risked a quick glance up to Cas’ face, prepared for anger, or maybe disgust. Instead, Cas tilted his head—such a Cas-like mannerism, Dean thought—before tightening his grip on Dean’s hand.
“What do you mean?”
“Y’know, to get you back from the Empty, everything happened so quickly, and I just expected--... I pushed you to go along with our plan. I- I took your grace, Cas. I didn’t even ask.” Dean’s other hand drifted up to his chest where Cas’ grace still remained in a vial around his neck. They hadn’t decided what to do with it yet.
Cas hummed in acknowledgement, before gently taking Dean’s half empty glass from him and putting it on the table. He shifted in his seat to face Dean better, pulling at his hand to do the same. Dean followed, nervous for the inevitable admonishment.
Once everything had settled down after getting Cas back, Dean had realized just exactly what he had done. His sole focus had been Cas, only Cas, just get Cas back… And when he finally did, he had looked up from his tunnel vision to realize exactly how his choices had impacted Cas.
He was no longer an angel.
Cas must feel some sort of resentment about that, Dean thought. How could he not?
Cas’ voice cut through Dean’s inner turmoil.
“Dean, look at me.”
Reluctantly, Dean complied.
“I’d like to think I know you pretty well by now, would you agree?”
Slowly, Dean nodded, still unsure how exactly that had happened, and yet, it was the truth.
“You feel like you forcibly removed my grace, yes? That is the choice you’re referring to?”
Again, Dean nodded. It was like Cas was reading his mind. He didn’t know how he felt about that.
“Dean, I’m going to say this, and I need you to believe me. You did not force any choice upon me. None.” Cas’ intense stare bore into Dean’s eyes. “I agreed with your plan, regardless of how little time there was. Even if we had hours to discuss the details, I would have made the same decision. Do you know why?”
This time, Dean shook his head. A faint smile played on Cas’ lips. Dean realized he was looking at Cas’ lips and quickly tore his gaze away, back up to Cas’ eyes.
“Because I would have done anything—anything—to get back to you. And Jack, and Claire, and Sam, and Eileen, and everyone else I care about on this planet. This is my home, my happiness. Truth be told, I haven’t felt like an angel in a long, long time. I’m not sure if I ever really felt like an angel, actually.”
You are an angel, Dean suddenly thought. You’re an angel to me. Internally, Dean’s eyes widened. Usually he was better at repressing those kinds of thoughts. Yeah, he may have learnt what internalized homophobia was, but that didn’t mean he was suddenly comfortable sharing everything he felt for Cas, feelings he wasn’t even sure he fully grasped yet. He focused back on Cas, who seemed to be winding down his little speech.
“I know things like this are hard for you to hear, and I don’t expect you to suddenly feel better. But, please, if you’re feeling upset at yourself, come to me, talk to me. Let me know and I’ll tell you this again and again, as many times as you need to hear it: It is not your fault.”
Dean was now struggling to hold tears back.
“Fuck,” he mumbled, sniffling a bit before rubbing at an eye. He turned away from Cas. He didn’t like people seeing him cry. Cas let him go, allowing Dean a semblance of privacy. Dean cleared his throat before turning back and giving what he hoped was a confident smile.
“Thank you, Cas… That- That means a lot.”
Cas returned the smile before standing up. “C’mon, we got burgers waiting for us, remember?”
Dean was grateful that Cas knew when to leave it, to not push him till his fight or flight is triggered and he ends up saying something he usually regrets. He was really, really fucking glad to have Cas back.